Is there anything more beautiful than the human face? Beautiful because it manifests the mystery of incarnation: meat made more than meat, flesh quickened by spirit, the breath of God made visible; the way the wind is made visible when it moves the trees.

Faces show love, show what it looks like, a visible image of the invisible. Think of Jesus’ face in Mark 10:21: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The loving is in the looking.

It is said1 that, just as the Son is the Word of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is the Look of love that the Father exchanges with the Son.

Or look again at the face of Charles de Foucauld: impossible to say where that Look resides: the mouth? the eyes? somewhere between? Wherever it is, the man’s face is lit from the inside.

But faces show other things besides love. Someone has said that, by the time he is forty, a man has the face he deserves;2 which is to say, our faces sometimes reveal things we would rather keep hidden. I have often noted that the wounded, those who have been particularly marked by suffering, wear a certain look, as definite and unmistakable as a taste on the tongue.

I’ve seen it in friends, I’ve seen it in family, I see it sometimes in a stranger walking down the street — a quick flash of something permeable, something naked, something crying for healing. I’ve even seen it in those who have made it their business to hide it. Nobody wants that kind of pain to be visible, but pain will out.3

I don’t mean that people’s souls are open books to me, far from it, but still: I know what I know.4 When you’ve known a particular pain from the inside, you can recognize it in others, the way Jadis descries the mark of a magician (however faint) in the face of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew.

I wonder if this is part of the secret to “gaydar.” Not every man with SSA wears the look of the wounded — and not everyone who wears the look has SSA — but it’s there often enough.

And even those who don’t know what it means sometimes react to it. Think of the face of the awkward boy in seventh grade, the one nobody liked, the one whose eyes always pleaded with you to laugh at his horrible, false jokes — and think of how you couldn’t bear that look, had to avert your eyes. It’s a look that can generate hatred as easily as compassion.

Looks of love, looks of pain. I wonder if the truly holy have the power to see the true looks behind all of our contrived ones, the way Curdie had the power to feel the true shape of a man’s hand in The Princess and Curdie.

And all of our looks, true and false, loving and pleading — I wonder how they look to God.

1 But by whom? Wish I could remember. Sounds like Von Balthasar, maybe.
2 I don’t know if that’s quite fair — and can’t remember who said this one either — but there’s something in it nevertheless.
3 People pushing harder / Up against themselves / Make their baggage sharper / Than their faces tell. Name the song — no googling!
3 And I’ll sing what I’ve said! (Name the song again.)

34 thoughts on “The Look

  1. Sarah

    This is one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever written. Especially during a time where most Catholic writers take the role of Culture Warrior (e.g., Mark Shea, Marc Barnes, etc.), your blog is all serenity.

    By the way, any chance you might change your headline ever? Don’t get me wrong– Personally, I’m a fan of it. But I posted a link to this post to my facebook, and it immediately garnered wrinkled noses from people who didn’t even click on it, assuming this was a blog that encouraged the gay lifestyle among Catholics, I guess. I corrected them, of course, and I think they’re probably perusing right now. But yeah, just a thought. I’d never suggest you let the misunderstandings of others dictate how you run your blog. :)

    Reply
  2. Greg

    Friendship is born at that moment when you one person looks at another and says to the other, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” CS Lewis

    Reply
  3. Jürgen

    Hei, very nice the blog. I think you are doing it really well. Its is really nice. sorry that my english is not that good, so i cannot express well, but i just wanted to congratulate you. Nice work.
    Pray for me, I will do the same! :-)

    Reply
  4. Amanda

    I agree with the statements that everyone else has posted this is quite beautiful. Also it gave me chills when you quoted Lewis’ “Magician’s Nephew.” (sorry can’t get italics in the com box)

    Reply
  5. Kelly

    I agree with Sarah about possibly changing your header. I love your blog and have been reading it for about 6 months and would really like to share with friends and family on Facebook but am concerned with what they will think about your header.
    You are in my prayers. May God bless you much for the good you are doing.

    Kelly

    Reply
      1. Eric

        Referencing Graceland was a fail-safe means of drawing this long-time lurker out into the light of the combox. Sure as if you’d said “mattress” and I’d had to stand in the tea chest and sing “Jerusalem.”

        Reply
  6. Carla

    I’m heading off to work at a middle school, I will be extra mindful to consciously respond in love to the wounded hearts of these young souls.

    Reply
  7. Tammy

    “I’ve even seen it in those who have made it their business to hide it. Nobody wants that kind of pain to be visible, but pain will out.”

    I make an enormous amount of effort to hide it but I’m pretty sure it still shows to some.

    Reply
  8. Paige

    I was with my dad when he died. He looked at my mom and said, “I love you.” The words were obviously meant from the heart but the look he gave my mom was full of such pure intense love that it still makes me cry when I think of it today.

    I really enjoy your blog.

    Reply
  9. Gabriel

    Thank you, Eric! I’ve always wondered what the title of that hymn was; I doubt the Flying Circus had particular theological attachment to it, but it’s a lovely song.

    Reply
    1. Eric

      Agreed, Gabriel: lovely song. Perhaps somewhat problematic as a Christian hymn–that a William Blake text was ever used as such probably says something about the C of E–but lovely nonetheless. Apparently it was originally known as “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” but was rather quickly rechristened.

      Reply
  10. mike

    I discovered your site last month on the “aggiecatholic top 20″ post last month; your topics are wonderful & beautifully written; you are also very well read; thanks a lot, I really look forward to it!

    Reply
  11. Rachel

    Sarah and Kelly,

    I respectfully disagree. If you want to love this blog (and Steve, by extension) than wouldnt it be best to allow it to be as it is, without asking it to change for your comfort?

    The title as it is makes it accessible, particularly to SSA individuals and even gay-identifying ppl. That the word gay and Catholic in the same sentence will immediately cause alarm in the fb world is, frankly, a shame, and one cause of The Look that Steve mentions.

    Be brave lovers.

    rachel

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      It’s not like I’m going to stop reading or stop sharing Steve’s posts if he doesn’t change the heading. Not at all. ‘Twas just a thought after some of my facebook friends told me they passed over it because of the heading. It has nothing to do with my comfort whatsoever.

      And unfortunate or not, the reality is that the word ‘gay’ has negative connotations to some Catholics. Steve even acknowledges this in his Q&A section. It is a shame, but it’s still reality. Seeing a comment on my page that merely said, “Ew” because the friend had only read the header made me feel as defensive as someone said “Ew” about one of my friends.

      Reply
  12. Robert H.

    @Sarah That the word “gay” has negative connotations in most Catholic circles is well understood. However, I don’t think that’s Steve’s problem. If your friends pass over this blog on the principle of one single word, I don’t know if they would be prepared to read everything that’s written here, as Steve does tend to be very honest in his writing. If your friends’ scruples prevent them from seeing past a negativity that has nothing to do with this blog or its author and everything to do with that one word (which he uses to mean, I’m assuming, someone who is attracted to the same sex; if I’m incorrect, by all means, correct me), then maybe they should stay away, as they obviously have some unfair preconceived notions they need to get over first.

    Reply
  13. Rachel

    Thanks for clarifying, Sarah. I understand where you are coming from, but I still think the solution to that (very loving) defensive feeling is to ask the person that exclaimed ew to change, not Steve. As someone that could be grouped into the ew, I would love for someone to defend me when I am too exhausted to defend myself…

    Reply
  14. Sky

    I’m still just kind of in awe of this blog. I just discovered it a few days ago and I’m trying to catch up. There’s so much courage here, it’s so beautifully written, so candid, so honest. An inspiration, in a word.

    And I agree with Rachel; I think “gay and Catholic” is part of the draw. It doesn’t scandalize, but compels. If the word ‘gay’ was hijacked by leftist forces, then lets hijack it back! :) We might view homosexuality differently than most of society but I think that, as Catholics, we can still be proud of who we are and the gifts God’s given. “Gay” does mean “happy”, right?

    Love and prayers, everyone (especially you, Stevie)

    Reply
    1. Nazria

      Nazria Misty thank you for respectfully disagreeing. I understand what you are saying and I now will be sharing on Facebook…

      Reply
  15. Gabriel

    Ditto Sky! I understand the concerns of a lot of Catholics (notably folks in Courage) about defining people by labels, but I think they’re worrying about a non-issue. There are lots of people, such as myself, who refer to themselves as gay without wholly, or sometimes at all, identifying with “the” gay agenda; and conversely there are people who do support that agenda who aren’t attracted to their own sex or don’t call themselves gay.

    Moreover, I don’t think identifying a person by an attribute is demeaning unless you reduce a person to that attribute — I am not reducing myself to my sexuality when I say “I’m gay” any more than I am reducing myself to my race when I say “I’m Caucasian.” It’s just an easier, more obvious, and more euphonious thing to say than “I’m a human being, with all the dignity that that implies, who, since it’s relevant to our topic of conversation, happens to be attracted to other individuals of the same sex as myself.”

    Reply
  16. Rayjo

    The header is what pulled me in. Catholic? Gay? Feeling FINE? I had to find out more, and the Q&A section does voice Steve’s on reservation about the use of “gay.”

    Reply
  17. Chris

    Sky beat me to it – I was going to say the exact same thing. I used to be one of the kind of people Sarah and Kelly were talking about, and Steve’s writing has helped me understand that someone who self-identifies as “gay” can still be living a life of chastity. When we jump to an alternate conclusion that becomes our own peculiar sin, no matter how “right” we may be about magisterial teaching. If you think someone would be scandalized by the title, use this as an occasion to bring 1 Corinthians 13 to them. Once we have our own house in order, we’ll all be better prepared to bring truth AND love to those who need it.

    Reply
  18. albert

    God bless the hands that write this blog. Of course, a lot of things are in the look. There’s something I say, “words, or the lack of them, are a window to the mind” the lack of words are expressed in the face, it is one advantage we have, a by-product of our pain, it makes us know people, we may not always be correct but many times, we are. Thank you steve.

    Reply
  19. Felipe G

    Great post Steve. You are such a thoughtful writer. In regards to your first footnote…I too think it sounds like von Balthasar….but perhaps also Richard of St. Victor?

    Reply
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